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Forgive Us the Debt of Our Sins

This is the fifth blog in the series on The Lord’s Prayer. The previous blogs are Rediscovering the Power of The Lord’s PrayerOur Father in HeavenMay Your Name Be SanctifiedMay your Kingdom come Your Will Be Done, and Give Us Our Daily Bread. Now we will continue to the fifth line of the prayer:

Forgive us the debt of our sins as we forgive
the debt of those who sin against us.

Comments and Cultural Insights

1. When a person sinned against another person, the damage he or she caused was viewed in way that we view “debt.”

2. The sinner must pay the person they harmed restitution and/or repair the damage they had done.

3.  The sinner could not receive forgiveness from God until that “debt” has been paid to the one harmed.

4. Jesus taught the same principle in his lesson about anger in Matthew 5:23-26.

Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your giftAgree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Amen! I say to you, you will by no means get out of there until you have paid the last penny.

5. God is called “a Forgiving God” in Psalm 99:8 and the Torah teaches us “to walk in all His ways.”

6. People often demand strict justice and demand that those who sin against them be punished to the maximum extent – even for the least of sins.

7. However, each person has the option of acting like “Our Father” and “being merciful and forgiving them out of grace.” 1 That is how most people want God to treat them. 

8. Failure to forgive a person can have serious consequences. Two hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the Jewish sage Ben Sira wrote -- Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray.3

9. In Hebrew thought, the individual bears the responsibility for his own actions as well as a collective responsibility for the society in which he lives.12

Making the words of The Lord’s Prayer a Reality in Our Lives

1. Of all of the commandments, rituals, rites, sacrifices, ceremonies, fasts, feasts, etc. – forgiving is often the most difficult of all. It is also one of the most important.

2. The sinner and the one sinned against are both created in the image of God. Sanctification of God’s name makes holiness the corner-stone of the Bible’s ethical teachings and warns against all manner of hatred and vengeance (Lev. 19:2, 17, 18).4 

3. A sin is viewed as both an offense (crime) and a debt (something owed). It is an offense committed by the sinner and creates a debt owed to the one sinned against – a debt of restoring and repairing the damage and/or harm done to them.

4. In the Torah, forgiveness granted by God through the sacrificial system of the Temple was only for sins committed unintentionally, and for ignorance that has caused ritual defilement. For other sins, sinners must rely on God’s mercy and grace.5

5. Forgiveness is a conscious, deliberate decision not to retaliate or take vengeance (demand payment) toward a person who has harmed you.

6. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, condoning or excusing offenses. It can help repair a damaged relationship, but it doesn’t obligate you to reconcile with the person (especially if that person presents a danger to you), nor release them from legal accountability in the justice system.

7. Forgiveness brings the forgiver peace of mind and frees him or her from corrosive anger by letting go of deeply held negative feelings.

8. Forgiveness empowers the those sinned against to recognize the pain they have suffered without letting that pain define them – it is part of the healing process that enables us to move on with our lives.6

9. You have the right to demand that every one that sins be punished to the full extent of the law, just as every one that you sin against has the right to demand against you. But, Jesus’s disciples were also very familiar with this lesson he taught too:

Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you,
do also to them, for this is the Torah and the Prophets.7

10. Remember the second part of this line of The Lord’s Prayer – “as we forgive the debt of those who sin against us.”

11. This was a constant reminder for how Jesus expected his disciples to respond when they are sinned against and how they can expect others to respond if they sin against them. Jesus also taught his disciples about TESHUVAH (repentance).

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1 A Prayer to Our Father: Hebrew Origins of the Lord’s Prayer by Nehemia Gordon and Keith Johnson, © 2009; p. 143.
2 A Prayer to Our Father; p. 145.
3 Ben Sira 28:2 (NRSV)
7 Matthew 7:12

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